Wayne Gretzky is Traded to the Los Angeles Kings

Two hours after the Oilers won the Stanley Cup in 1988, Wayne learned from his father that the Oilers were planning to deal him to another team.

Walter had known for months, but kept it from Wayne so as to not upset him. According to Walter, Wayne was being "shopped" to Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, and Vancouver. According to Wayne, Pocklington needed money as his other business ventures were not doing well, and had gone "sour" on Wayne and wanted to move him. At first Gretzky did not want to leave Edmonton, but he later received a call from Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall while on his honeymoon asking permission to meet and discuss the deal. Wayne informed McNall that his prerequisites for a deal to take place were that Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski join him as teammates in Los Angeles. After the details of the trade were finalized by McNall and Pocklington, one final condition had to be met: Gretzky had to call Pocklington and request a trade.
On August 9, 1988, in a move that heralded significant change in the NHL, the Oilers traded Gretzky, along with McSorley and Krushelnyski, to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash, and the Kings' first-round draft picks in 1989 (later traded to the New Jersey Devils—New Jersey selected Jason Miller), 1991 (Martin Ručínský), and 1993 (Nick Stajduhar). "The Trade", as it came to be known, upset Canadians to the extent that New Democratic Party House Leader Nelson Riis demanded that the government block it, and Pocklington was burned in effigy outside the Northlands Coliseum. Gretzky himself was considered a "traitor" by some Canadians for turning his back on his adopted hometown, his home province, and his home country; his motivation was widely rumoured to be the furtherance of his wife's acting career.
Edmontonians bore no grudge against Gretzky. On his first appearance in Edmonton after the trade—a game that was nationally televised in Canada—he received a four-minute standing ovation. The arena was sold out, and the attendance of 17,503 was the Oilers' biggest crowd ever to that date. Large cheers erupted for his first shift, his first touch of the puck, his two assists (making him the NHL all-time scoring leader) and for Mark Messier's body check of Gretzky into the boards. After the game, Gretzky took the opportunity to confirm his patriotism: "I'm still proud to be a Canadian. I didn't desert my country. I moved because I was traded and that's where my job is. But I'm Canadian to the core. I hope Canadians understand that."After the 1988–89 season, a life-sized bronze statue of Gretzky was erected outside the Northlands Coliseum, holding the Stanley Cup over his head (picture shown above, to the right).

LOS ANGELES — For the last few weeks, the National Hockey League has gone on a serious media blitz.

To be sure, the league shifted their public relations staff and writers for their official web site into overdrive in pumping out daily e-mails to members of the media as well as feature stories for their web site, all to cover what might be the most significant event in NHL history over the last twenty years…

…August 9, 1988, the date of biggest trade in sports history, when the Edmonton Oilers traded The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, to the Los Angeles Kings.

Indeed, the 20th anniversary of the trade is featured on the NHL’s web site. The Oilers are also highlighting Gretzky’s time with the team on their web site and even the Phoenix Coyotes, where Gretzky owns a share of the team and is the alternate governor and head coach, is in on the act with a feature on the trade.

Of course, Gretzky and the anniversary of the big trade is the top feature on the Kings’ web site as of this writing.

The NHL’s media blitz has also been extremely successful in getting the media to publish their own features on the anniversary of the trade as well, as you can find at least one story—usually more than that—on all the major sports news web sites and on all of the NHL-specific media web sites.

Frozen Royalty would only be duplicating the fine work of all these sites and you can easily find and read all of those stories, so I will only say that I agree with all of them in that it was a momentous trade, not just for the Oilers and especially the Kings, but for the entire hockey world. The NHL, as we know it today, would be very, very different if Gretzky did not spend eight seasons of his career in a Kings uniform.

Without question, the entire hockey world owes a great debt of gratitude to Gretzky for his tireless work to grow the game. Throughout his career, he knew his impact and contributions off the ice were just as important as what he did on the ice—the game has had no greater ambassador.

But there is just one little nagging thing that all of those stories are ignoring. As much as I hate to rain on the parade, so to speak, there is one black mark on Gretzky’s record while he played for the Kings that has not been discussed in any of these stories and as much as Gretzky deserves to be praised, on balance, he does deserve one little bit of criticism.

Rewinding back to the end of his tenure with the Kings, the team was awful in the three seasons following their 1992-93 Stanley Cup run, due in large part to money problems that had beset the team caused by the criminal activities of their previous owner, Bruce McNall, who was convicted of defrauding banks of $236 million.

In the 1995-96 season, Gretzky had finally had enough.

Indeed, he was one of just a very small handful of established, solid NHL-caliber players on a team with some average NHL players that you would find on any team. But the team also had the likes of career minor-leaguer John Slaney and players who were averse to hard work like Vladimir Tsyplakov.

But wait…it gets worse.

That team also featured Arto Blomsten, Rob Cowie, Troy Crowder, Barry Potomski and…drum roll please…Denis Tsygurov.

Now that I have sent those who remember beer league-caliber hacks like Blomsten, Cowie, Crowder, Potomski and Tsygurov off to the nearest rest room to worship the porcelain god, or even worse, blinded you for life (in which case you will not be able to read the rest of this article), my sincerest apologies.

But you see my point. Gretzky had nothing to work with and he knew that it would be impossible for him to lead a team filled mostly with average players and talentless plodders to a Stanley Cup championship.

Near the midpoint of the 1995-96 season, knowing he was nearing the end of his playing career, Gretzky gave the Kings and its new owners, Philip Anschutz and Ed Roski Jr., an ultimatum.

Acquire a fifty-goal scorer and an offensive defenseman or trade him.

I will not go into all the details surrounding that February 27, 1996 trade, how it transpired, etc. But when the ice chips finally settled, it was clear that both sides handled the situation poorly.

The Kings, as they had already done in other situations countless times in their history, bungled the entire situation through their indecision—should they trade him or should they keep him—and ended up getting nothing in return when they traded Gretzky to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for centers Patrice Tardif and Roman Vopat, left wing Craig Johnson, a 1997 first-round draft pick (Matt Zultek) and a fifth round pick in 1996 (Peter Hogan).

Most of you reading this are probably thinking…who? Those guys are nobodies!

And you would be absolutely correct.

Indeed, none of the players the Kings acquired in that deal was a significant contributor to the team. Even Johnson, who played in 429 regular season games with the Kings, scored just 62 goals and added an equally measly 79 assists for 141 points (he also scored three goals with two assists for five points in fifteen playoff games with the Kings), was a marginal player, and that is a rather generous assessment.

In short, the Kings got absolutely nothing in return for The Great One.




Nada…you get the idea by now, I hope.

To be sure, the Kings get a lot of blame for stumbling and bumbling their way through this entire situation and in the end, winding up with nothing in return. If they had acted quickly and decisively, perhaps they could have gotten a better return.

However, that is only if they could have acted before Gretzky opened his big mouth. Yes, Gretzky must also share responsibility, as he played a major role in lowering his own trade value to zero.

Obviously frustrated, Gretzky went public with his ultimatum and as soon as Gretzky uttered those words, he instantly doomed the Kings in any potential trade. After all, what general manager in his right mind would give the Kings anything of value in return?

Indeed, the Kings were between the proverbial rock and a hard place because everyone knew that they had to trade Gretzky quickly and because of that, The Great One could be acquired for, all intents and purposes, nothing. As such, the Kings had no choice but to accept the flotsam and jetsam they eventually wound up with in exchange for the greatest player ever to play the game.

Unquestionably, if Gretzky had done it the right way, expressing his concerns to management and ownership privately, the Kings would have received more in return. In the end, Gretzky’s actions in this matter contributed, in part, to the continued malaise that the Kings still find themselves mired in today.

But don’t get me wrong. I am not bringing up this one black mark on Gretzky’s record to say that he is not deserving of all the accolades, honors and tributes he has received or the deep respect he has earned over the years and during the current commemoration of the 20th anniversary of his trade to the Kings.

Looking back to before I started writing about the Kings and the NHL, I was a fan of The Great One and had been since his days with the Oilers. I remember back in those days that whenever the Kings and Oilers were on TV, I would make sure to get home and watch so I could marvel at his extraordinary skill—talent that we had not seen before. And after Gretzky was traded to the Kings, I rarely missed a game on television.

I was in attendance at the Great Western Forum on March 23, 1994, when Gretzky broke Gordie Howe’s career NHL goal-scoring record against the Vancouver Canucks. I remember leaping to my feet, arms raised high over my head, cheering loudly along with everyone else. What a great memory that was.

Of course, there were many others, including the amazing Stanley Cup run in 1993 where he put the team on his back and almost willed the Kings to their first championship.

In short, I am not a Gretzky hater. Rather, I am only bringing up this one dark chapter in an otherwise extraordinary, stellar career to provide some balance and point out that Gretzky is not perfect. Nevertheless, this criticism should not be construed as an attempt to take anything away from his amazing career and his accomplishments and contributions on the ice and off.

Without a doubt, Gretzky is still The Great One and I doubt that anything will ever change that, especially not the rantings of a freelance hockey writer.

On August 9, 1988, the NHL was forever changed with the single stroke of a pen. The Edmonton Oilers, fresh off their fourth Stanley Cup victory in five years, signed a deal that sent Wayne Gretzky, a Canadian national treasure and the greatest hockey player ever to play the game, to the Los Angeles Kings in a multi-player, multi-million dollar deal. As bewildered Oiler fans struggled to make sense of the unthinkable, fans in Los Angeles were rushing to purchase season tickets at a rate so fast it overwhelmed the Kings box office. Overnight, a franchise largely overlooked in its 21-year existence was suddenly playing to sellout crowds and standing ovations, and a league often relegated to “little brother” status exploded from 21 teams to 30 in less than a decade. Acclaimed director Peter Berg presents the captivating story of the trade that knocked the wind out of an entire country, and placed a star-studded city right at the humble feet of a 27-year-old kid, known simply as “The Great One.”

Personal Statement

My relationship with Wayne goes back to the 1990s when he invited me to play in his softball tournament in Brantford, Ontario. He wanted to get some actors in the game and I was a big hockey fan, having played it growing up in Chicago. I thought it would be a small game, but there were about 20,000 people there. First play of the game, I got a grounder at shortstop and threw out the runner and the crowd started booing me. Turns out it was Gordie Howe. I was humiliated. That began my personal relationship with Wayne. Through the years, I went to lots of Kings games, and we played lots of golf and poker together. Knowing Wayne is like knowing one of those rare human beings like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, who are so utterly dominant in their sport that it’s mesmerizing to be around them. The trade to the Kings was not only a huge moment in his career, but also a very contained and interesting way to look at this incredible athlete’s life. I was working in France when the deal went down. My best friend called me and said, “Gretzky’s coming to L.A.” His voice was trembling. Wayne F***ing Gretzky was leaving Canada and coming to our city. It felt like more than just a sports trade. It felt radical and wild and unsettling—like a country’s nationalism was on the line and something big was about to happen. As a fan, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Naturally, we scraped together all our money and bought season tickets right away. Pre-Gretzky, we used to buy five-dollar student seats in the nosebleeds and move down and sit on the glass because there were so few fans there. It immediately went from that to sellouts many nights. The Kings averaged 14,875 in Gretzky’s first season and the arena held 16,005. We were in hockey heaven.

As you've probably been reminded about 1,000 times already, this Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the hockey world's Trade to End All Trades (Also known as Mark Messier Meltdown Day and the Day Canada Died Albeit Temporarily). More commonly, it is known as the day when Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers for some guys who were pretty good but never really equated to the value of Wayne FREAKING Gretzky.

August 9, 1988. A day that will live in hockey infamy forever. At least in Canada. Or maybe just Edmonton.

But however you remember it, wherever you were that day when you first heard the news (heck, it might have taken a week to hear about it back in those days with the pony express and all), it's something that hockey fans will remember forever. At least those of us who were old enough to remember it.

With all due respect to those I'm about to make feel really old, I was three months short of my second birthday on August 9, 1988. However, that doesn't mean I can't speak on the topic. It only means that I'm not a historian so, you know, my memory might be a little cloudy.

In fact, the earliest memory I have of Gretzky, aside from seeing him on A LOT of hockey cards, is rather odd. It's the biggest trade that never happened (and may have never even been discussed by either team). One day, in what was likely 1994, I was sitting in the stands of the Nassau Coliseum reading the Islanders' program with my Dad prior to a game. It's all really fuzzy, but the cover article had something to do with how Gretzky was rumored to become an Islander. As you might imagine, that worked out really well for everyone. Or maybe just Wayne since he was probably better off never joining the mid/late 90's Islanders. Maybe. I bet it would have worked out.

Anyway, going back to that fateful day of Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Eight, I can say that I remember it well. After waking up from my afternoon nap, I was treated to a nice dinner of warm milk and strained peas. It might have been carrots. After that exhausting dinner, I received a much needed diaper change and probably laid down for the night. Life was tough back then.

In all honestly, I figure I probably found out about the trade years later, when I was coherent and could understand the concept of men skating around on frozen water using sharp metal blades. Wherever I was when I learned about Gretz and 'the Trade' , I'm sure it was somewhere important. Hopefully ,I was doing something really badass, too. But I was probably five or six ,and at that age, all I was likely to be doing was either sleeping or watching TMNT.